LITTLE ROCK — Days before the BCS standings are released for the first time, the number of teams with a clear path to the national title game is down to a half-dozen or so.
Gone from the picture are Stanford, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Georgia, all whacked on a wild weekend that turns up the attention on the Atlantic Coast Conference face-off between Clemson and Florida State on Saturday. The Tigers and Seminoles are Nos. 3 and 5 in this week’s AP poll and the winner will be no worse than fourth when the BCS rankings are revealed Sunday.
At ACC headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., folks had to be smiling over the victories by Utah, Penn State, Texas, and Missouri that positioned the Florida State-Clemson winner to be the first ACC team in the championship game in more than a decade. Plus, waiting in the wings is Miami, giving the ACC and the SEC the same number of teams in the Top 10.
The team that prevails at Clemson can add bonus points deeper in the regular season — Florida State by beating Miami and Florida, and Clemson by defeating South Carolina.
Florida State and Clemson are each 12-1 to win in Pasadena on Jan. 6, according to Bovada.lv. Miami is 25-1.
Other teams that can win out and make an argument for a spot in the title game include the obvious — Alabama, Oregon, and Ohio State — and a couple of less obvious from the Southeastern Conference.
On the second list is once-beaten LSU, already victorious over Florida, with a trip to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9. The Tigers could be forgiven for the 44-41 loss to Georgia if they beat ‘Bama and the Eastern Division champion.
The other SEC possibility is the team that trounced Arkansas 52-7 in Fayetteville. South Carolina lost to Georgia in early September, but an 11-1 record would include victories over unbeaten Missouri, Florida, and unbeaten Clemson. If the Gamecocks, who have found a running back in Mike Davis to complement quarterback Connor Shaw, finish with 10 Ws in a row and defeat Alabama or LSU in Atlanta, it would be difficult to deny Steve Spurrier’s team in light of the SEC’s success the past seven years.
As good as Florida was against Arkansas, the Gamecocks looked like a more complete team. Maybe that perception goes to the fact that the Razorbacks offered no resistance in the second half when they made only three first downs.
At 100-1 in the latest odds, South Carolina offers value. So does LSU at 14-1 although there is a danger in reading too much into the Tigers’ defensive performance vs. Florida. The Gators’ offense is not on par with the one that Alabama will employ on Saturday against Arkansas.
At less than 2-1, Alabama offers no value. Ditto Oregon, at barely 2-1. The third choice is Ohio State at 6-1. Those three teams have the easiest road to perfect although Oregon has UCLA (5-0), Stanford (5-1) and Utah (4-2 ) during a 20-day period.
The preseason prognostication that Alabama’s schedule consisted of Texas A&M in September and LSU in November remains accurate although Auburn has done enough to be perceived as a threat. Same for the idea that Ohio State’s challenges were Northwestern and Michigan with Penn State advancing to the role of potential spoiler.
Yes, I am aware that Missouri, Baylor, and Louisville are unbeaten. Quarterback James Franklin’s season-ending injury removes Missouri from the title talk. Baylor will not score 70 each time out against Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Texas who are a combined 19-4. Because of the company it keeps, Louisville will get no respect even at 12-0.
More than two unbeaten league champions is likely, fodder for a fitting send-off of the BCS. Next year, chairman Jeff Long and his College Football Playoff committee would welcome four unbeatens.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.